Oculus: Through a Looking Glass Darkly!


When they were kids, Kaylie and Tim Russell had their lives ripped apart by the death of their mother and the murder of their father. Ten years later, Kaylie is obsessed with destroying a an antique mirror she believes responsible for those events, while Tim has just been released from a psychiatric hospital and is determined to see things as they really are – but what if she’s right?

Oculus is a bit old school in the way it uses shot selection, lighting, music and pacing to build a sense of dread – along with some very satisfyingly timely jolts – to create an effective little potentially supernatural thriller. Director and co-writer Mike Flanagan, along with co-writer Jeff Howard, creates suspense by weaving together the events of ten years ago with events in the present – along with moments when our perception is colored by things that or may not be happening in both timelines.

When Tim (Brenton Thwaites, Home and Away) is released from a psychiatric hospital, he is picked up by his sister, Kaylie (Karen Gillan, Doctor Who, Guardians of the Galaxy) – who persuades him to help her destroy an antique mirror she believes is responsible for the deaths of their parents, Marie (Katee Sackhoff, Longmire, Riddick) and Alan (Rory Cochrane, CSI: Miami, Argo).

As we follow their preparations – her preparations, really – we also follow the disintegration of their family ten years before. Annelise Basso (The Red Road) and Garrett Ryan (The Millers) are extremely good as the young Kaylie and Tim.


It’s Kaylie’s belief that their parents were possessed by a spirit in the mirror, but Tim, fresh out of years of treatment, firmly believes that events were more natural. Events in both timelines reflect both points of view and add surreal moments that further heighten the suspense.

Although the actors playing both versions of Kaylie and Tim are very, very good, if Sackhoff and Cochrane weren’t in top form, the film wouldn’t work. It is essential that we see Alan and Marie from both points of view, as well.

From the start, we see how seriously Kaylie takes her belief in a spirit in the mirror – she has equipment that would make the Ghost Hunters look like the Ghost Facers. We also see how Tim goes along because he firmly believes that by doing so – and allowing things to play out – she will get over her obsession when nothing happens.

Flanagan makes use of a combination shots that echo found footage within a larger, more designed look and an electronic score that pulses like a robotic heart, and editing that could almost be described as elegant, to build tension. There slight bits of humor that ease the dread just a touch before it build to the next level, culminating in a unique climax that suggests the possibility of a sequel without spelling anything out.

Oculus is an expanded version of a short by the same creative team, but you couldn’t tell unless you saw the short (I haven’t). It’s a sleek movie that puts every penny onscreen and doesn’t take a second longer than necessary to produce maximum effect. If you prefer your horror movies dark, twisty and (mostly) gore-free, Oculus will definitely work for you.

Final Grade: B+

Photos courtesy of Relativity Media